Left melancholy as a poetic technique of reflective engagement

In its richly orchestrated cultural activism, the Greek Generation of the 2000’s sounds like a collection of concerti grossi, that is, of suites of short movements, often dances, where the musical material is passed between a small group of soloists and a chamber orchestra, and played in contrasting sections.

Each of these young poets gets to play as a member of the concertino in several concerti, which turns them into wonderful performers as both soloists and ensemble players.

With their sophisticated skills of composition and performance, the poets of the 2000’s practice Left melancholy as a technique of reflective engagement. Involved as they are in their collaborative and collective poetry/music making, these poets, most of them born around 1980, do not need the consolation of affective attachments which people born twenty or more years before them seek in order to sustain their cruel optimism for the Greek Left government. They never anticipated a Left rule as a survival mechanism in their “damaged” world in the first place. When talk about Left melancholy acquired some currency earlier this year among Syriza intellectuals and even politicians, it was swiftly exorcised as an unwarranted malaise. Young poets, however, did not criticize it since to their work Left melancholy has been all along an indispensable component that pianist Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self,” and I would call “obbligato,” like the piano in Ernst Bloch’s Concerto Grosso No. 1 (1925). Long before the “Crisis” exploded, they had seen it coming, and reflected on it.

As the long trajectory of 20th-century post-revolutionary melancholy from resistance to resignation or resilience has been shifting lately from the exercise of Multitudinal Occupations to the gathering of Public Assemblies, it would be interesting to take a closer look at the distinguished philosophical history of this melancholy. We are quite familiar with its German course since the collapse of the 1919 Berlin revolution (from Benjamin to Brecht, Adorno, and Heiner Müller) but much less with its even more fascinating Italian course since the collapse of the 1919 Turin occupation. Consider the Left melancholic reflections of Antonio Gramsci on “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”; Gianni Vattimo on “weak thought” and «active nihilism”; Furio Jesi on the “untimeliness of revolt”; Alberto Toscano on “politics in a tragic key”; Toni Negri on liberation as “exodus”; Giorgio Agamben on “destituent power; and Franco Berardi on the “phenomenology of the end”.

In this particular context, the melancholy of the flourishing Greek Generation of the 2000’s may be discussed in light of the passage in Romain Rolland that appealed so much to Gramsci when he was trying in his Prison Notebooks to figure out why the revolution was defeated:  What I especially love . . . is this intimate alliance—which for me makes the true man—of pessimism of the intelligence, which penetrates every illusion, and optimism of the will. It is this natural bravery that is the flower of a good people, which “does not need to hope to undertake and to succeed to persevere,” but which lives in struggle over and above suffering, doubt, and the blasts of nothingness because his fiery life is the negation of death. And because his doubt itself, the French “What do I know?” becomes the weapon of hope, barring the road to discouragement and saying to his dreams of action and revolution: “Why not?”

Here is a 2010 untitled poem by writer, critic,  scholar, and teacher Thodoris Rakopoulos (1981), a firm voice of today’s Greek “pessimism of the intelligence, which penetrates every illusion, and optimism of the will“:

Αυτό το δάχτυλο που τώρα

Ακουμπά την άκρη του κοσμου

Στο δάχτυλό σου Έχει

Έχει αγγίξει πριν

Κι άλλες άκρες

πάντα δείχναν πως

Ήταν αρχή

Μα πάντα κατ-

Έληγαν να

Είναι το τέλος

Του κόσμου του

Η αρχή

Του ν’ αμφιβάλλεις

Για όλους τους

Άλλους κόσμους

November 22, 2105

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